Country To Capital – first race of 2019

Sometimes you just know. Sure there’s plenty of fish in the sea and picking is hard but occasionally you get a good vibe and the other party knows what needs to be done to finish you off. The communication is good. You turn up and are handled well, they’re experienced. They coax the best out of you, help you through the trickier moves and finally leave you sweaty, tired, spent and unable to walk properly for days. If you’re lucky they will do the same for your mates as well.

Of course I’m referring to race organisers. What else?

Country to Capital has been on my radar for a while and recommended as a good season opener. The race organisers Go Behind Ultra have a great reputation but previously never used them.

c2c 20190112_065821

I signed up on impulse over Christmas as some clubmates were running it (even more than I originally thought it turns out) so I’d have company.

All the pre-event stuff seemed good and there was a regular string of updates as they re-checked the course and made alterations due to issues on routes. They also updated the GPX route so nobody had an excuse for getting lost. It’s these things that matter. I’ve been to events before where the same blurry photocopied course notes from the inaugural 1812 event are handed over with some scribbles for diversions that are as useful as a Magic 8 Ball for navigation.

In the end I managed to beg a lift to start from a further clubmate Julian, back for his fourth go. The race starts in a pub in Wendover and finishes in Little Venice in London so you need to give some thought to transport on this one. Or bring a bike.

Arriving at the pub used for the start it was packed. My planning had been limited and I hadn’t realised how many entrants there were. Despite the big numbers the registration, chip collection and bag drop were done like professionals. Starting in a pub was also a great change from events that kick off in a cold wet muddy field full of cow poo.

At registration you get a full route course in a book. It seemed detailed and thorough but I relied on GPS so it spent the race getting sweating and falling apart in my race vest.

The first train from London arrives 15 minutes before race start and the organisers go from slick to super slick to get them all processed in time for the 8:30am start.

The first thing everyone tells you about C2C is to go fast for the first gate. Jen, Matt and I got stuck near the back so didn’t. We queued a bit but nothing big. If you were going for the win I would definitely recommend a sprint start.

The early parts of the course are mostly fields and footpaths with lots of gates and stiles to break it up (another reason to go balls out from the start if looking to win).

The three of us ran well and stayed together. Normally Jen kills me on races so wasn’t sure if she was holding back or Matt and I were about to blow. Time would tell.

Aid stations are good – water and energy drink, gels, some awesome sweets and the best cake I’ve ever eaten. Over the course of the race I ate more cake than over Christmas. The variety of snacks at aid stations isn’t the ‘kids birthday party’ you get at Centurion events but more than enough, especially with the cake. I liked the cake.

Much of the route is either made paths or concrete/hard packed towpaths once on canal. Unless the previous weeks have been awful I’d recommend road shoes with some grip rather than full trail. Personally I’d go for Adidas Supernova as they’re my preferred shoe and suit my ample mass and poor form (no I’m not sponsored by them but I’d love to be).

On subject of kit, the mandatory list is pretty brief, relying on common sense for the entrants to pick what they need. Given it’s in January the weather is variable so I’d personally add a spare long sleeved base layer in ziplock bag, emergency foil blanket and a decent rain coat. The usual bag of tissues, plasters and Vaseline is a good idea as well. Being a short ultra there is no intermediate drop bag so you need to carry everything you think you’d need. In an absolute disaster there are two supermarkets on route so I’d bring emergency debit card and some folding cash. There are also pubs. I wasn’t allowed to stop in any. My mates are evil.

The course has a couple of hills in first 10 miles or so but otherwise flat. Hitting 19 miles as it clicked over to 3hrs we had made good progress. Marathon distance came at 4h15ish and I felt good. Then we got to 30 and I didn’t any more. This was my first ultra since July and it was showing. Matt and I stayed together whilst Jen powered on.

My mental state probably wasn’t helped by being back on the route of the Grand Union Canal Race and recalling the Hades Inferno that nearly did for me last May after a 120 mile warmup. Given Matt was using this event as training for the GUCR I tried not to let the PTSD show.

Matt and I worked our way along, walking the bridges and trying to keep a steady rhythm. Although we had no real time goal, sub 8hr seemed a nice target and with six miles to go we seemed to be a few minutes inside sub 7hr expected time. It was close.

Ignoring the massive amount of litter/fly tipping on some sections (Londoners I have to say, are at times bloody disgusting) I looked for the landmarks from my last time along here. We both agreed that at 1 mile to go we would push for it, with no hard feelings if one of us blasted out a Mo Farah sprint finish.

If you’ve done the GUCR you’ll know the finish line is at the toilets in Little Venice. As we approached there was nothing there. Momentary panic was averted by spectators cheering us on and advising the finish was a few metres beyond the toilets. Unfortunately just like Jen, our inner Mo had deserted us and instead we finished together, both shocked to scrape under the 7hr. Jen had put 12 minutes into us on the final 13-14 miles which is either amazing or embarrassing depending on your view.

Time for more cake, beer and a train home.

If you’ve not done a Go Beyond Ultra event before then I’d recommend them, and also this race. They know what they’re doing and you’re in safe hands (add your own sexual innuendos here).

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The best time to start running is always today. Or failing that January.

It’s January. Most of the population are stumbling out of the carb-fuelled fog of the festive period, wondering why their clothes don’t fit and pretending getting out of breath singing Auld Langs Syne is not a poor reflection of their health.

gymMany will take this opportunity to put their New Year resolutions into practice and join a gym, enticed by the cheap joining offers and the flexible contracts requiring only the sacrifice of their first borne to cancel when inevitably they discover sweating in a room full of sweaty people, grinding away on sweat drenched machines, negotiating pools of sweat, and getting showered in sweat stenched changing rooms is no more appealing than it was last year.

If you have too much money and a limited imagination of how to spend it then a gym is ideal. If you’ve heard of the limitless things more fun than a gym (colonic irrigation?) you could try a cheaper sport instead and go for a jog.

Whether new to running or returning from an absence, January is ideal as you won’t be alone. All those lucky ballot winners from the London Marathon will have awoken, remembered the fateful day they got their place in October and realise they’ve not even run for a bus in the intervening months. The unlucky ballot rejects may have made the shock discovery that other marathons not only exist but are also a lot closer to the 87% of the population that doesn’t live in London, with less hassle to enter. Only a credit card and a few clicks stand between them and the undertaking of a physical feat of epic proportions.

You don’t have to enter races if you just fancy recreational running, but having a hard target in the future will help motivate and prevent constant prevarication. You could run any day, so conversely have no need to run today. Tomorrow will suffice but never comes.

Most big running events are in either Spring or Autumn. Training in Summer for an Autumn race sounds ideal, until you factor in blistering heatwaves, sunburn, dodgy tan lines, abundant undergrowth, feisty livestock and midge attacks in the evenings. Sensible runners aim for Spring fixtures and training in cool conditions. Come race day they emerge from the shadows into the light like a butterfly from a chrysalis, ready to take on the miles whether over 10k, half marathon, marathon or even longer. Magazines and websites are awash with training plans promising to take you from zero to hero in as little as 16 weeks. Buy one, stick the plan on the wall and cross it off. Build slowly and consistently.

Another advantage of starting in January is darkness. Nobody can see how badly you run, and your dignity will be spared. The reality is that everyone but Mo looks stupid running. Even the legendary Paula Radcliffe has a weird head wobble that would make her a laughing stock had she not typically finished and driven home before the rest got near the line. Eventually you’ll come to accept your duck footed, arm swinging method of perambulation is no less comical than anyone else’s – for now though, it’s possible to remain hidden, only briefly glimpsed in the pools of street lights.

sportbrOn the subject of ‘hidden’, how’s your body confidence? Fancy strutting your stuff along the local canal in little more than your birthday suit? Because that’s what it took to get any running done during the glorious but unaccustomed summer we basked in last year. Social media was flooded with confused Brits querying whether running in just a sports bra, or fully topless, was acceptable in public. No Brit ever needed to ask this question before and we were rightly confused. It was as unexpected as your kid being arrested while scrumping pineapples and mangos from the local farm just outside Dudley. Avoid the social awkwardness, wait for more temperate single digit weather, and you can run in clothes that keep the bits you’d rather not display hidden away. A season of training will cover your stumpy pins with rippling muscles and you can kick-start planes for Easyjet.

Mental health is finally being talked of openly and in all its forms. Virgin Money London Marathon advise that 20% of the UK population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or ‘winter blues’, caused by a decrease in daylight and subsequent Vitamin D deficiency. Whilst running is not a cure for every ailment (you can’t run away from your problems but it’s worth trying), getting outside to bag some miles during lunch breaks may not only improve your mental health but also help control your waistline. Side effects of SAD include cravings for high-carb foods and excessive sleeping. Your body thinks you’re a bear building up a layer of fat for hibernation. Your boss has other ideas and would like you to show up every day and at least make the pretence of work in return for financial remuneration.  

A big part of running is social. Many may be happy to run alone, but benefits from training with likeminded individuals are immense both in performance and safety. Now is the perfect time to experiment with a few running clubs before choosing whichever has the right mix of ability and attitude to motivate you through the coming months. Relentless positivity and back slapping may be ideal for you. Others prefer mutual ridicule and mockery. If you can’t laugh at yourself when snot freezes to your face at least someone else can. 

xcMembership of a club also enables you to join in local winter cross-country events. If you’re experiencing flashbacks to horrific compulsory cross-country races inflicted on you as a child by teachers embittered after not being allowed to take real subjects…calm down. Breathe deeply. School cross-country may have been an exercise in subterfuge by loafing off whilst maintaining the pretence of actual exercise but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it is to be an adult representing your club, and it will bring out the inner competitor you never knew existed. The runner from Shelbyville disappearing into the distance is all the encouragement you’ll need to hunt him down like a rabid dog. The club points are yours by right! It’s an affront that they even consider taking them from you, and a winter of good-natured rivalry across muddy fields will build you an impressive base level of fitness. 

Whilst all this may sound appealing in the comfort of a coffee shop, it can be more problematic in the cold light of an even colder day. Don’t delay; start running. Begin as soon as possible. Form the habit when it’s still relatively mild and inviting outside. Look forward to those pre-work jogs with your mates on crisp mornings because soon they will become a part of your routine that you will crave no matter what the arctic winter throws at you. 

If you need some further motivation then head on over to The National Running Show later this month for advice, products, motivation and to meet some legends of running. I’ll be there too but more in the ‘cautionary tale’ than expert role.

 

 

2018 – Running Recap

2018 is done. I ran a bit and did some races. Some interesting things happened in the world of running. Some were disappointing.

January

It was cold and dark. People ran a lot and posted photos of blackness to prove how early they’d left the house. #darkoutside

February

It was still cold. It became obligatory to photograph your own legs in running shorts to prove how double hard you were. #doublehard

March

It snowed a lot. Many races were cancelled. Some did a great job of it. Some displayed their usual cack handedness.

I got a 3h13 marathon and achieve Good For Age for London. Briefly. Buggers.

April 

yukoBoston Marathon was wetter than an otters pocket. Many runners cried. Yuki Kawauchi didn’t and just smashed out his gazillionth fast marathon and an outright win proving form is temporary but class is permanent.

London Marathon revised their good for age times giving runners a whole week to ramp up their training ahead of the 2018 race. Ultimately this was pointless as the mercury crept up a bit and everyone complained it was so hot their hair ignited and trainers melted to the tarmac. Some of pacers who’d been over optimistic about their performance were found out as they shuffled in 30+ minutes adrift due to the shock discovery that spring is warmer than winter.

May

img_9819We had proper heat in the UK.

The two bank holidays were the hottest on UK record.

The first I ran Thames Path 100, then MK Marathon. The second I did a little jaunt along the canal for the GUCR145 and have zero sympathy for those upset that London was a bit warm. Sorry not sorry.

June

It was still hot. We had a weird thing called ‘summer’ in the UK. Social media was awash with influencers giving advice on how to run when a little warm. It was surprising how many different ways “wear a hat, drink a bit, slow down a bit” could be re-hashed.

Also much debate on whether it was acceptable for ladies to run in just their sports bras or blokes to run topless. The answer to both being ‘yes if you want, it’s your body, nobody really gives a toss’.

ride100endJuly

I cheated and did a bike ‘race’, the Prudential Ride 100.

It confirmed my suspicions that cycling is not as hard as the lycra-clad MAMILs would like you to believe.

IMG_0593August

Adding to my collection of stupid Spanish I entered a vertical race in Lanzarote. Running up a mountain. In the dark. It was hard.

 

September

Seemingly nothing interesting happened. I blame Brexit.

October

Everyone got the annual London Marathon reject email and took to social media to denounce the whole thing as fixed.
An ‘influencer’, sponsored by a running brand walked around Chicago marathon in over 8 hours, several hours over the cut off. Many were inspired. Apparently. Some followers suggested they run Comrades next. Some others suggested they should take less selfies and train a bit. The second group were wildly denounced as bullies.

November

ASICS UK managed to set the ‘This Girl Can’ movement back a decade with a glorious own goal of zero body fat models exercising on train tracks. It was quickly pulled after ridicule and unwanted attention from Network Rail and British Transport Police.

Also in November everyone got the annual Berlin Marathon reject email and took to social media to denounce the whole thing as fixed. There is a pattern here.

img_1030Most importantly however a book was published in November that has been likened (by me) to ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘1984’ in it’s importance to the world – Run Like Duck. More recently it was declared by a local runner as “The best book I’ve read in a decade” by Chris who hasn’t read any books since school except ‘Peppa Pig goes to the bacon factory’ for kids bedtime.

December

I finally ran sub90 for a half marathon. No other news is relevant.

Bye bye 2018, hello 2019

What I’d like to see –

  • Running brands sponsoring up and coming runners on the cusp of greatness, not selfie obsessed ambassadors. Just chuck them some trainers and get some free race entries sorted at least.
  • Failing that at least sponsoring people that enter races, train, and run them to the best of their abilities.
  • An end to excessive hashtags on EVERY SODDING MEDIA POST. #sponsored #voteforme #freeshit #willendorseanyoldcrap #magicsocksmakeyourunfaster #foamrollersfixeverything